Massage, Pilates, Qi Gong and Beyond

Erin Johnson Blog

My first love of the human form and all of its possibilities began for me 13 years ago with Massage. The idea that we begin to learn about ourselves by first pressing up against the world around us is, in its inception, self awareness that grows from those moments during massage when you realize you were holding on to more tension than you were consciously aware. Part of my personal evolution through bodywork has been to begin to teach people the tools of how to let go of those places of tension.

Pilates, my first love of a movement system, not just for the principles behind it but also because I have a thing for equipment! Especially equipment that helps us find support while we are searching for freedom in our physical form. Joseph Pilates was brilliant at engineering these pieces. One of my favorite pieces of equipment is the Reformer. If I could narrow it down to what intrigues me most about the reformer, first it would be the ability to teach reach and expansion. Teaching to reach into the straps, whether with arms or legs gives us something to press into and to reach for. For me, bodywork is ultimately about self-awareness. If we learn about ourselves by pressing up against the world around us, the design of the Reformer is where it’s at! Anytime we are reaching into something we begin to create space in our bodies. We want length as well as strength and we want to create it without building more compression or tension into our system.

Another beautiful concept taught to me within Pilates is that of Axial Elongation. To find support wrapping our spine helps increase the spaces between the vertebrae. We are looking for balance in the musculature surrounding the spine. We want the back and the front to be working together, so as to not become imbalanced in our work. Awareness of equality in the tissues is the beginning of resting our mind in the soft tissue during movement. This practice in itself helps to increase our ability to be self-aware. Imbalances create stagnation within the system. Stagnation limits our ability to move freely and to our full potential.

This personal progression of self-awareness has traversed through Massage into Pilates and now into Qigong. It is not that I have deemed Massage unnecessary, I still hold my first Love quite close; and certainly, we need the physical work to maintain a strong structure, it is that we start to become an active participant in the shaping and healing of ourselves. We no longer lie on a table and say “fix me”. We come to understand that the real changes in ourselves come when we take what we have learned on the table and in the studio and use it to continue to grow and heal in all aspects of our lives. My part as a Massage Therapist and now a teacher of movement is to help create space within you. You truly are the healer of yourself.

YES, there is a whole other territory to explore in bodywork and beyond. Qi Gong is my fresh new love affair. Internal work is the aim in Qi Gong, meaning there is more going on inside the body than what is happening externally. Qi Gong was introduced to me 6 years ago by an acupuncturist and it was a way for me to, ahem, relax! My understanding has and continues to be deepened by my tutelage under Damo Mitchell and the many talented teachers within Lotus Nei Gong School of the Daoist Arts. While in the beginning it is used to soften and connect with your breath, it is a much deeper process! If you allow this practice to take root in you it can become a bit of an obsession…. okay that sounds a bit extreme, we will call it a gentle obsession! Gong can be loosely translated as a skill gained through work, and work it is! It is a consistent and dedicated practice that offers us the gifts of experiencing the human form and all of its possibilities through a very different cultural framework.

Qi Gong holistically connects the body and strengthens our awareness of the entire system while letting go of habitual tensions and patterns. It is creating, what my teacher refers to as a connected wetsuit. If you have ever read anything about Qi Gong you are most likely to come across the terms the “three treasures”; Jing, Qi, and Shen. It would be considered fractured and incomplete to not recognize that the consciousness, the physical, and the force that sits in connection between the two are equally important in our work. This practice also embodies the concepts of Sung, the art of letting go, and Ting, the art of fully integrating our awareness through the whole.

Creating space in our physical form is our first connection. So while Pilates offered me the ability to understand the importance of the structure to support space within the body, it is Qi gong that has given me the empirical understanding of the power that is intrinsic within that space.

We never gain anything in adding and we do not lose anything by letting go.